I tend to miss the power of today’s familiar gospel, if I am not completely honest with myself. Some religious leaders come up to try to discredit Jesus. This has been his ordinary experience. This time, it’s not the usual suspects, the Pharisees. These are the Sadducees “who deny there is a resurrection.” Their ploy is to show that the very notion of a resurrection would lead to some very odd results. The wife whom 7 brothers married, trying to produce offspring for their deceased brother, would find herself in the afterlife with 8 husbands.
The challenge for me, if I’m honest enough, is that I too often live my daily life not thinking about the afterlife much. The temptation is to live for today. The battles, struggles, dreams and rewards can keep me pretty occupied.
I’ve been to lots of funerals. In the American culture, there is often a wake service the night before a funeral during which family members give testimonials about the one who died. The language of many of those talks sometimes reveals little evidence in a belief in an afterlife. At times, a poem read or a song text used on the program, speak about the consolation we have that our loved one “remains with us in our memories,” or “they survive in the good deeds they have done.” Only rarely, is there mention of the person being “in a better place.”
The language of Jesus was quite different. Jesus told us the afterlife would be like a wedding banquet – a great celebration. He said he went ahead of us to prepare a place for us. Paul encourages us to live in this world with our hearts set on the world to come.
I’m not suggesting we don’t live in this life or enjoy it. I’m just reminded by this gospel not to forget that we await new life, everlasting life. The victory over sin and death has been won. This world and its anxieties, struggles, and deaths isn’t all there is. There is a merciful God who is also just. That is such good news for those who will never have justice in this world. It can be bad news for those who live this life in total dis-regard for the poor and marginalized. (Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus.) For us who might be dealing with the limits of this life – in real poverty, with diminishment, with sickness, with the critical or chronic illness of a loved one, even grieving death itself – we have real good news to look forward to. We can imagine it however we like. It is going to be so much better than we can imagine. That thought is quite a grace to lift my spirits today.
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